The journeys of lowly Manchester native and radio producer Karl Pilkington have been well chronicled by his de facto sponsor of these journeys, comedian Ricky Gervais. The former worked on several podcasts of the latter and Gervais decided to fly Karl to visit the Seven Wonders of the World, titling the show (to Karl's obliviousness) as An Idiot Abroad. The show was a hilarious mix of Ricky pranking Karl from afar while serving as a travelogue of sorts to Karl's experiences. It went so well that someone thought a second series would be good, which brings us to where we are.
The series' subtitle this time around is 'The Bucket List,' and judging from that subtitle one could seem to assume that Karl would be in for torture that is more psychological. In the first season, Ricky's desire to poke Karl with a proverbial stick, isolating him in a corner several thousand miles away. In addition, Karl's guard increased as the show went on. However, with this new season, one of the first things out of the shoot that we see is Karl on a small platform, with a bungee cord strapped to his ankles. It is clear Karl does not want to do the jump, to the point where he is noticeably shaking in fear, and yet those around him who work at this jump point are prodding, daring him to do it. As one who laughed heartily at just about all of the antics in the first series, this opening note not only left me feeling uneasy, but it sets the course of the show in the second.
There are moments in the show where we get to see Karl be Karl in the way that many are accustomed to. Karl is notorious for not really liking much outside of his small comfort zone that was plain to see in the first series. We see some broadening of those horizons, some of which are extensions of Gervais' pet causes such as being against animal cruelty or assisting with rebuilds of homes in places like South Africa. We also get to see Karl take on once in a lifetime things that many of us may not be able to experience otherwise, such as being in a shark cage, coming face to face with gorillas in their natural African habitat or even walking on the wing of an airplane. They are exciting, charming and in the case of the airplane wing, outright hilarious to see Karl's expressions.
But there are other moments when it is clear that Karl is not up for some of these moments, yet he is encouraged on, to the point where the empathy that may have been pushed down in the past resurfaces. This is not any clearer than in the series' fourth episode, where Karl is in Alaska to see whales. Before he gets to that point, he eats frozen whale from a pair of Inuit grandmothers, assists with the waste disposal in a neighborhood and as a "money can't buy" opportunity, he is dispatched onto a fishing ship where he will see the whales, but he works as well. He picks up lines, he preps them, and cuts up lots of frozen and semi-frozen octopus. That, combined with the motion of the boat, leaves him sick and miserable. When whales DO show up, Karl does not care; he is too busy retching on the deck of the boat. Which then makes you wonder if the show has already outlived the entertainment for all involved?
There are times where An Idiot Abroad recaptures some of the charm it achieved in the first series, but in the second, things just come off a little meaner. Whether it is due to some evolution in Gervais' sensibility (possibly) or how the new series challenged Pilkington more in all aspects (likely), it feels like the second season is unnecessary. Maybe this energy could be rechanneled into the podcasts many of us have come to know and love as to why this accidental partnership works. One can only hope.
An Idiot Abroad splits its eight episodes over two discs and presents them all in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The show was originally filmed in high definition and the discs represent this to some degree, with nice looking exteriors and an image that is replicated solidly from its original airings on The Science Channel. There is no edge enhancement or other post-processing done and the source material is as pristine as can be expected. As far as standard definition goes, I really have no complaints about how the show looks.
The show comes to DVD with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, with the results being a little more lively than what I remember with the first series. The rear channels are more present during the course of the series than I remember in the first season, and while the subwoofer does not fire in engagement, the low end is a bit robust. It also should be noted that these episodes are the BBC airings (sans the Van Halen nod in the Route 66 episode), so you get far more of the cursing that was bleeped in the American editions.
It should be noted that I am excluding the eight episode of the series, which is the one where Karl, Ricky and Ricky's writing partner Stephen Merchant reunite to discuss the fun things that happened over the course of the run. The dialogue is fun and entertaining and we see Karl in a more 'natural' environment for him, and it is a nice bow to wrap on the run. The extras are on the second season and a little scant. Seven deleted scenes (11:59) are mainly Karl's recollections though I would say I would pay cash money for someone to make "Bullshit Man" into an animated series. "Ain't No Pleasing You" (3:09) is a song Karl performed during the series, while "Pilko's Pump Pants" (19:11) seems to be the British equivalent of QVC and Karl's appearance on/participation in a product he believes in.
The second series of An Idiot Abroad does have some of the moments that made the first season so funny and entertaining, but the show seems to have turned a little mean (for lack of a better word). Gervais may say that is the point, but when the dynamic of him antagonizing Karl is all the more transparent, it tends to remove some of the entertainment for the viewer. Technically the show is decent but could have used some work on the bonus material, but it is a decent set, I just preferred the first season better.